A documentary film on Life and Legacy of Eadweard Muybridge



Every now and then we will post a new, specially chosen photograph from Muybridge’s vast catalogue.  It might be every few days, or a week, or a month—whenever the spirit moves us.  So check back periodically to see new additions.

JANUARY 14, 2022

As we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr., and the continuing struggle for racial justice and equal opportunity, we present one of Muybridge’s motion studies from his magnum opus, Animal Locomotion, published in 1887 under the auspices of his benefactor, the University of Pennsylvania.  Today, the work is considered a masterpiece, but Muybridge had a difficult time finding buyers.  Spooked by the many images of nudes, the University set a high price on the work, hoping to prevent the unwashed masses from seeing the objectionable photographs.  It is often said, including in our film, that there is but one photograph of an African American model—Ben Bailey, “the mulatto pugilist.”  And it is true that Bailey is the sole Black subject among the hundreds of men and women photographed by Muybridge.  However, he is not the only African American to appear in the photographs.  In one of the better known studies, plate 626, Annie G., Muybridge photographs a horse at a gallop.  The rider, who is not identified, is African American. In the decades between the end of slavery and the institution of Jim Crow segregation, African Americans enjoyed enormous success as jockeys.  In the first Kentucky Derby, 13 of 15 jockeys were Black, including the winner, Oliver Lewis.  African American jockeys won 15 of the first 28 Kentucky Derbies.  Perhaps the most successful was Isaac Murphy.  Born into slavery in 1861, Murphy won three derbies, and in 1955 was the first jockey inducted into the sport’s hall of fame.


JANUARY 7, 2022

Today, Exposing Muybridge was accepted to the Sedona International Film Festival in Arizona.  In honor of the Native peoples who lost their lands, and more, to the colonial expansion of the U.S., we post this photograph of Shoshone Indians in Corinne, Utah.  Muybridge made this photograph, likely in 1873, while on commission for the Central Pacific Railroad—thus the titling on either side of the stereo view.  While Muybridge left few signs of how he felt about Native Americans, and eagerly documented their displacement, his images of indigenous peoples, as compared to the work of other Anglo photographers of his and later eras, are unusually honest and respectful.  Here, Muybridge departs from his typical aesthetic to frame his subjects staring directly towards the camera (and him).  It is one of his most narrative views, bristling with tension.  But what story is Muybridge telling? One of defiance, or defeat? Progress, or conquest?


JANUARY 1, 2022

Maguire’s Opera House. 1870.  Presented in honor of the new year, and looking forward to once again gathering together in theaters to watch opera, movies, concerts, and more.  Located at 618 Washington Street in San Francisco, Maguire’s Opera House opened in 1856 as the first theater in the city built for opera.  Before it closed in 1873, Maguire’s also hosted minstrel shows, burlesque, farce and melodrama.  This is a very rare photograph, one of only two we have seen in which Muybridge prominently features his horse-drawn photography studio, which he called The Flying Studio.  Muybridge was working with wet-plate photography, the technology of the time, in which he would have to apply a chemical solution to a glass plate, expose the plate, and develop the photograph, all on location.  Note under the show posters at lower right, he signs the photograph Helios, a pseudonym he would soon discard.  Of interest, a few years after Muybridge made this photograph, he married Flora Shallcross Stone, an attractive woman half his age who loved to go to the theater.  When Muybridge was away on photography expeditions, a handsome, charismatic theater critic named Harry Larkyns began taking Flora to the theater.  As scholar Marta Braun says in the film, “This spells trouble!”


DECEMBER 22, 2021

Mount Hoffman, Sierra Nevada Mountains. From Lake Tenaya. 1872.  Muybridge often framed a scene differently from other photographers.  Nowhere is this more evident than in this photograph of Mount Hoffman in Yosemite.  Other famed Yosemite photographers like the Muybridge contemporary Carleton Watkins, and later Edward Westin and Ansel Adams, chose vantage points and framings that produced powerful, clean and idyllic images. Westin and Adams, for instance, made photographs from this same spot, only they both chose to shoot across the lake to the right of Muybridge’s frame, out towards a dramatic mountain, seeing the scene so similarly that their photographs actually overlap.  Muybridge usually tilted his camera down, as here, to capture messy foregrounds, often cropping the tops of a landscape, leaving viewers feeling disoriented.  In Exposing Muybridge, we film from this spot with Mark Klett and Byron Wolfe, photographers and scholars who specialize in rephotographing historical images, many by Muybridge, and who have created a collage of the three Lake Tenaya photographs set against a modern panorama.  There is something else that is striking, and revealing, about the photograph: One of the rocks in the scene does not actually exist, but was added afterwards by Muybridge.  Can you tell which one?



DECEMBER 17, 2021

Screen shot from Exposing Muybridge documentary of Golden Gate, From Goat Island, 1870.  From the collection of Gary Oldman and Gisele Schmidt.  Goat Island, now known as Yerba Buena Island, sits in the middle of the bay between San Francisco and Oakland and today serves as the junction point between the two spans of the Bay Bridge.  In his landscapes, Muybridge often photographed subjects with their backs to the camera, drawing the viewer to the distant horizon. This was one of the first Muybridge photographs director Marc Shaffer saw that sparked his interest in the photographer.



DECEMBER 10, 2021

We begin with Contemplation Rock, Glacier Point. Muybridge was the fourth to photograph Yosemite Valley.  This he made during his second photographic expedition there in 1872. The stereo view shows Muybridge himself dangling 3000 feet above the valley floor.  Stereo photographs were made with double-lensed cameras and produced two side by side photographs that were nearly identical.  When placed in a special viewer, the images merged together to produce an optical illusion of a single three-dimensional image.  This photograph was presented by Muybridge’s defense attorneys at his 1875 murder trial as proof of his insanity.




Over the course of his twenty year career as a professional photographer, Muybridge took more than 100,000 photographs.  Between 1867 and 1878, Muybridge earned a sterling reputation as a talented and fearless landscape photographer, his work spanning a vast geographic area stretching from Alaska to Central America, Utah to Yosemite, San Francisco and parts in between.  Beginning in earnest in 1877, for the next decade Muybridge shifted his focus almost entirely to motion photography, working first with Leland Stanford on the grounds of Stanford’s Palo Alto Horse Farm (now Stanford University), and later at the University of Pennsylvania.

Below are smattering of photographs spanning Muybridge’s career.